13 The Sirens of Normative Mythology: Mother Narratives of Engagement and Resistance - Jan Valle & Susan Gabel 187
I stand here ironing, and what you asked me moves tormented back and forth with the iron. “I wish you would manage the time to come in and talk with me about your daughter. I’m sure you can help me understand her. She’s a youngster who needs help and whom I’m deeply inter- ested in helping.” “Who needs help,” . . . even if I came, what good would it do? You think because I am her mother I have a key, or that in some way you could use me as a key? She has lived for nineteen years. There is all that life that has happened outside me, beyond me. And when is there time to remember, to sift, to weigh, to estimate, to total? I will start and there will be an interruption and I will have to gather it all again. Or I will become engulfed with all I did or did not do, with what should have been and what cannot be helped. — Tillie Olsen (1961)1 And so begins the narrator’s monologue in Olsen’s (1961) short story, I Stand Here Ironing. Acclaimed by second wave feminists for its introspective depic- tion of a working-class single mother, I Stand Here Ironing grants the reader access into a nameless mother’s stream-of-consciousness response to a seemingly innoc- uous, yet impossible question. Within the visiting ofﬁcial’s presumably well-inten- tioned desire to help, this mother hears insinuation of blame and judgment (i.e., if you tell me what you have done or...
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